Byzantine Bronze Enkolpion Reliquary Cross


A complete Byzantine bronze reliquary cross, known as enkolpion, featuring a hinged base and a barrel-shaped suspension loop at the top. The cross is formed of two halves, decorated with images typical of Christian iconography. On one side, the piece depicts a crucified Christ between the small figures of the Virgin and St. John; his arms are outstretched upon the cross and a halo shines around his drooping head. He wears a collobium (a sleeveless or short-sleeved garment) with two clavi (bands), an iconographic type established in the early Christian centuries. An inscription is carved beneath each outstretched arm. Written in abbreviated Greek, it reads: ΙΔΕΟΥCCΟΥ, ΙΔOΥCΜΗΡCΟΥ (IDEOUSSOU, IDOUSMETERSOU), translating to “Behold your son, Behold your mother”. Above his head, a tablet with a central X-design has been executed in low relief, together with a sun disc and a crescent moon. The reverse side depicts a stylised portrait of the Virgin Mary in the orant prayer pose. She is surrounded by the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, identified by their initials carved in Greek next to their roundels.

Please note that the stand is for reference only.

Date: Circa 9th – 10th Century AD
Condition: Excellent condition. A minor chip to the suspension loop which is now blocked and does not move.

In stock

Enkolpia were small pendants worn around the neck, and examples have been found tracing back to Late Antiquity. The cross shape was the most popular symbol for such amulets, as the silhouette was believed to have apotropaic qualities. Many enkolpia were designed to hold reliquaries, as can be seen here by the opening function of the pendant. The reliquary was believed to work in tandem with the talismanic qualities of the cross-shape to protect the wearer from harm and evil. Such pieces were very popular in Byzantium, and were made in an assortment of materials, from gold and silver, to bronze and lead.

The Greek inscription seen on this piece refers specifically to the Bible verse John 19.26-27. Jesus, dying upon the cross, addresses his faithful disciple John and his mother, Mary, asking that they behold one another as mother and son.

To discover more about Byzantine art, please visit our relevant blog post: The Byzantine Empire, Art and Christianity.

Weight 69.6 g
Dimensions L 10.8 x W 5.5 x H 1.2 cm



Christian Ideology


Reference: For a similar item, please see The British Museum, item 1985,0305.1